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Reno Aces pitcher Jon Duplantier has funk in his arm.
“He’s just funky, no other way to put it,” Aces pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru said. “He has some nastiness to him and hitters don’t like it.”
The Arizona Diamondbacks top pitching prospect went three innings, surrendering one earned run on three hits and three strikeouts in the Aces’ 9-5 loss to the Fresno Grizzlies on Wednesday. He has a 1.04 ERA and 10 strikeouts with Reno this season.
Duplantier’s unconventional approach on the mound all starts with his long-arm, low three-quarter slot delivery. Once the right-hander winds up, he hides the ball behind his head before he delivers a strike to the plate, a routine he’s developed growing up in Katy, Texas.
“I’ve been throwing this way forever,” he said. “There’s pictures of me at 10 years old throwing the way I throw now. I didn’t realize it was all that weird until one of my teammates told me in college.”
Opposing batters can’t hide from his devastating four-pitch arsenal. He gets ahead of the count with a mid-90s two-seam fastball with plenty of sink that runs off the plate. In two-strike situations, he’ll showcase a hard-breaking slider to whiff right-handed hitters. Duplantier also has developed a mid-80s change up and effective curve to force ground balls.
His third strikeout on Wednesday night was an 85-mph slider that broke at the hands of Fresno third baseman Matt Reynolds.
“My off-speed stuff is huge,” he said. “Guys are throwing real hard so my slider can and breaking ball can take a load off my fastball and it can add to it. It’s all just a means of keeping the hitter off balance. … They have to honor one or both, and they complement each other really nice in the way they move.”
Duplantier, 24, who pitched with Double-A Jackson last season, made his big-league debut for the Diamondbacks on April 1. He posted a rare three-inning save with two strikeouts against the San Diego Padres.
“I had no idea I even got the save,” he said. “Now it’s one of the coolest moments of my life.”
Duplantier appeared in two games with the Dbacks before being optioned to Triple-A Reno on April 9. He’s returned to his starting role with the Aces on a limited pitch count, throwing 97 total pitches in 8.2 innings pitched this season.
“The mentality is different between the two,” he said. “In the bullpen, it’s about getting the out at all costs and go to work. Starting, it’s a little bit more like a chess game. You have to go back to the at-bat before and the next (player) in the order. It’s a whole different ball game.”
Duplantier’s arm hasn’t only been seen on a diamond. He was a Houston high school quarterback for the Silver Lakes High School Spartans in 2012 and 2013. The two-sport star lettered in football and baseball during his junior and senior seasons.
Duplantier had a smooth touch with the football compared to his mechanical release on the mound. His 6-foot-3, 224-pound frame was a good size for the gridiron.
“I never threw footballs the way I throw a baseball,” he chuckled. “I had a tight, compact quick stroke with it. My arm was pretty stock when I launched (the ball) downfield. I could stand in there and take a hit, as well.”
Multiple injuries to his collarbone and wrist forced Duplantier to stick with one pair of cleats. A torn meniscus ended his senior football season with the Spartans and forced him to permanently stick to baseball.
“It was a tough decision, but I couldn’t take the beating of both (sports),” he said. “Football was fun, but baseball was my real passion. So I just stayed with that.”
The decision paid off handsomely. Arizona selected Duplantier in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft after three college seasons with the Rice University Owls.
The right-hander has been and up-and-coming star since he was assigned to the Dbacks’ minor league system. Duplantier has not recorded a higher ERA than 2.69 over three seasons in High-A, Advanced-A and with Double-A Jackson. He was a Futures Game Selection during his time with the Visalia Rawhide in 2017.
Currently bouncing between the Dbacks and the Aces, Duplantier is getting used to the Biggest Little City.
“When you drive around here, the scenery catches your eye,” he said. “It’s beautiful out here. I’m not used to seeing so many mountains coming from Texas, let alone mountains with snow on them. … I’ve sent my parents a bunch of pictures.”
Duplantier may not be with the Aces for long. His strong arm and impressive stuff can help Arizona’s depleted bullpen or slot in the back-end of the team’s starting rotation.
He is the 69th ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline.
“He had a great spring training and opened a lot of eyes,” pitching coach Bajenaru said. “He works his butt of and is a competitor at heart. … I hope I don’t see him that much this year. I want to see him up there.”
Tomas goes yard in Aces loss
Yasmany Tomas’ eighth-inning homer was too little too late for the Aces.
Tomas jumped on a hanging fastball and launched it over the party zone in right field. He has six home runs on the season, tied with Kevin Cron for the team lead. Tomas went 1-for-4 with two RBIs on Wednesday.
The Aces had nine hits. Tim Locastro went 1-for-4 with a triple and RBIs. He made a diving catch in center field in the second inning. Locastro was optioned back to Triple-A on April 20.
Reno catcher Tyler Heineman made his first home start, going 2-for-3 with one RBI. Like Benito Santiago throwing from his knees, he erased two baserunners attempting to steal third base.
Second baseman Juniel Querecuto went 2-for-4 with an RBI. The ex-San Francisco Giant, shortstop Kelby Tomlinson, added two hits.
Fresno scored three runs in the first and fifth innings. Carter Kieboom heated things up on a breezy 75-degree night. The No. 24 ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, Kieboom went 2-for-4 with a homer, double and two RBIs.
Grizzlies center fielder Collin Cowgill made a return to Greater Nevada Field. The outfielder had 13 homers and 70 RBIs at a .354 clip in 2011 for Reno. Cowgill finished 0-for-4 on Wednesday against his former team.
Fresno plated three runs in the first inning off Kieboom’s RBI double. The Aces responded with a two-run third inning off Locastro’s RBI triple to right-center.
The Grizzlies added two more in the fourth. Reno chipped into its deficit with another run in the bottom of the fourth. Fresno pulled away with three runs in the fifth and another in the seventh. Tomas’ two-run blast in the eighth marked the final runs for the Aces.
Taylor Widener starts for Reno on Thursday.
Notes: Paid attendance was 3,054. …Reno has surrendered 18 runs in the first inning and a team-high 19 runs in the second. The team has a combined 6.32 ERA thus far this season. The team is outscored 18-4 in the sixth inning. … Former Reno Aces’ first baseman Christian Walker is off to a scorching start with the Dbacks. He leads the MLB with a 70.6 percent of hard-hit balls. … The Aces are 81-81 all-time against the Grizzlies. They are 48-34 all-time against Fresno at Greater Nevada Field.
On Deck: Reno, 5-14, faces Fresno for the second game of the five-game series Thursday at 6:35 p.m. Right-hander Taylor Widener is expected to start for the Aces. Henderson Alvarez will get the nod for the Grizzlies.